With the conversation of race in America looming large among Christians, considerable debate has arisen about how we ought to engage in activism, whom we should and shouldn’t partner with, and which causes we should support and pursue.
In the midst of that debate, a large swath of Christian leaders have warned us about the dangers of wokeness and Critical Race Theory, urging us to “just preach the gospel.”
To be sure, CRT has become something of an evangelical boogeyman, an excuse for many Christians not to engage in the hard work of racial justice and equity. But I hold the belief that the Bible speaks wisdom and truth into every aspect of life. As such, it has plenty to say about how we should think about issues of systemic racism.
While we don’t often notice it, the Bible talks about race a lot. Many of the stories and passages of Scripture that we easily call to mind actually have deeply racial overtones. But since we aren’t embedded in the culture of the people to whom the Bible was originally written, we miss it.
References to race relations, feelings of supremacy among the majority culture, and rebukes of unjust power dynamics are baked into many of the stories we tell our children.
While there are numerous instances throughout Scripture where this occurs, I thought it would be helpful to call out a handful of specific times we see it—particularly in passages of Scripture that most long-time Christians know well.
Here are four specific times where God powerfully subverted racism in the Bible.
1. God Subverted Racism When He Sent Jonah to Preach in Nineveh.
We all know the story of Jonah. If you grew up in Sunday school, it’s one of the first bible stories you ever learned—partly because it makes for the best coloring sheet material. But if you’ve revisited the Old Testament book of Jonah as an adult, you quickly realized that it’s kind of a bizarre story.
Jonah was a prophet. It was his job to preach repentance toward God, so that people could avoid judgment. But when God sends Jonah to Nineveh to do his job, he runs the other way. It’s only after a three-day all expenses paid spiritual retreat inside the belly of a fish that Jonah relents and actually goes to Nineveh.
And after Jonah preaches to the people, they repent. The entire city turns from their wicked ways and gives honor to the one true God. As a prophet, you would think that Jonah would be elated! But he wasn’t.
You see, Jonah didn’t run from Nineveh because he was afraid that they wouldn’t listen. He wasn’t worried that he would be persecuted for preaching there. He didn’t want to preach to the Ninevites because he knew that if they repented and turned to God, God would heap grace and blessing on them. And he wanted nothing less than for the foreign Ninevites to get the same gracious treatment from God that Israel did.
In fact, Jonah was so upset about the good fortune of the Ninevites that he said, “It is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:8).